Reviews: e-book and audiobook non-fiction: comfort dogs, psychics, and polygamy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 February, 2015, 10:49pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 February, 2015, 10:49pm

The Upstairs Wife
by Rafia Zakaria
Beacon Press

Using her own family as an example of Koran-sanctioned polygamy in Pakistan, journalist Rafia Zakaria weaves together a tale of misery that will enlighten, and anger, many readers. When her Aunt Amina was forced to accept her husband’s second wife in 1986, it was an “odd thing”: technically permissible, such an arrangement was a rarity, the author writes, pointing out that although nowadays, in an ever conservative Pakistan, it is encouraged as the ideal family model. Amina, as the title reveals, becomes the wife upstairs after the new wife moves in downstairs and shares her husband on alternate weeks. During In the same year, Benazir Bhutto, the country’s prime minister for two terms, returns to Karachi after years of self-imposed exile. The Pakistan she encounters has laws designed to remove women from public life. Bhutto’s might have been a privileged existence, Zakaria points out, but still she had to overcome “traditions” that diminished women. Zakaria tells of other women undone by their husbands’ philandering and how, after Partition in 1947, male arrivals in the Muslim country suddenly had the right to have four wives. “My story was built on [Amina’s],” Zakaria reveals in an ending that is anything but happy. 


The Reluctant Psychic
by Suzan Saxman
(read by Hillary Huber)
Blackstone Audio

Is everyone mad? That thought will plague you as you learn about Suzan Saxman and her supposed ability to commune with the dead. Not only did she see people on the other side, she says, but also the future and the past, as scenes in a movie. Saxman is apparently sometimes psychic, sometimes clairvoyant, and sometimes neither, especially when it comes to herself and people close to her. She also does psychic readings for animals, who use her to relay that they don't like what they're being fed or that their accidental death was no one's fault. Saxman, whose memoir is read by Hillary Huber, claims her reputation spread through word of mouth, and tells of her strange childhood, when she would wake, usually at 3am, to find spirits watching over her. Her mother's lover, Saxman's father, was a homeless man. Her mother, paranoid her adultery would be discovered, tried to keep her daughter from forming friendships. Saxman has no explanation for her "gift", although she remembers her fevers and says: "People like me often have illnesses as children that separate them from the world."


Dog Days
by Tim Engel
Amazon Digital Services

This book, by Tim Engel, shows how K-9 Comfort Dogs give succour to the suffering. These mutts are trained to serve as a bridge for ministry in the Lutheran Church. Focusing on one dog, a golden retriever called Fuerst, Dog Days tells how, in the space of just 18 months, it found a devoted partner in the pastor, who used the dog to console the suffering. As a trained therapy dog with his own name card, Fuerst visited nursing homes and attended funerals and disability-awareness fairs, simply offering people the chance to make a fuss of him. Empathetic, and gentle with young and old alike, the dog worked Monday to Friday with Engel, who tells of the effect of Fuerst on an autistic child and footballers mourning the death of a teammate, among others. Engel also tells of the dog's untimely death, which, readers will sense, is the reason he wrote the book. Dogs working as grief counsellors is an interesting subject, but Engel lacks the storytelling skills to make his book anything but a journal that will appeal only to friends and people whom Fuerst touched.